• Dr Susan Baxter

How to keep friends and not alienate people (dieting blunders!)

In this article, Suz discusses how to ‘stay friends with your friends’ as you pursue your fitness goals… Friends unite.

Whether you are reading this article because you are about to commence your fitness journey or are already a ‘card-carrying’ VIP member, you should be aware that your schedule looks very different to that of someone who is not on the same path to health and vitality.

Instead of ‘Friday drinks’ you might be topping up your drink bottle in anticipation of the imminent spin class, or forgoing the sweet or salty chips and dips in favour of a healthy snack (or no snack at all) whilst on your couch snuggling into your partner.

As you come up with new ways to eat the clean foods you allow yourself, and schedule into your daily life creative ways to challenge your body, it’s all too easy to assume that everyone around you, and especially the ones that you love, will be cheering you on (and with banners at the very least!).

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and it can be quite hurtful and isolating to find that your friends sometimes won’t accept the newer, healthier you. Perhaps they like you just the way you are (or in most cases ‘were’): they might not actually want you to change. This is something that is difficult to deal with: quite often the most resistance does not come from within, but rather from those around you.

You will probably feel quite frustrated and angry after hearing comments such as ‘when are you going to eat normal food again?’, or snide ‘not-so-funny’ jokes about how you are delving into a salad as they eat a cheeseburger at lunch time. Sometimes you just want to yell: ‘I love you all, but sugar and junk food are not a major food group!’’.

Apart from the initial anger response, you may also feel despair and sadness; these might make you give up your fitness goals all together or even self-sabotage. However, stay strong – this is NOT the answer.

What I suggest instead is a slight change in approach, summarised as five principles or tips for embarking on fitness goals whilst maintaining healthy relationships.

1. Let it be

It’s very easy to fall into the role of clut-like preacher, and want to convert everyone around you to your 5am starts, cookie-less elevenses, and sober weekends. If you do try to change those around you, it is likely that you will antagonise them, and meet even more resistance. Chances are that the people around you are quite happy, and will be offended if you try to force your health and fitness approach on them. Make the change for YOU! Let them make the decision on their own (if they want to): simply be their example and role model, and you’ll probably find that they will start asking you for advice.

2. Pipe down

Everything that is happening to you is SO EXCITING and obviously you are very passionate about it. But if your only topics of conversations are the gym and healthy food choices, unfortunately you will quickly alienate those closest to you who are not on a similar path. They might simply get bored, or even find it uncomfortable.

Make a conscious effort to chat to friends about things that you share as common interests; you’ll keep them as friends who will be there to support you, should you fall off the fitness horse. Such supportive friends are especially important in the off season training where it’s easy to become a little blue without the regular scheduled trainings and meals.

3. Share your intentions

When embarking on your plan, let your friends and family know your intentions. It can be the case that a spouse or loved one is unclear on why you are making these changes: for example, they may erroneously believe that it is in order to leave them. Change can be scary, especially if you don’t understand why it’s happening.

If necessary, reassure them that it’s to enhance your life together, rather than a bid to remove them from your life. You should share with them how you really want to improve your confidence or health and fitness levels, and what this would mean to you, and perhaps how you anticipate that this will change you.

4. Compromise

It has long been known that ‘friends that play together, stay together’ (1) Researchers from the University of Utah have shown that even where attitudes and common interests were different, time spent together was a better indicator of friendship, even in participants that were strangers before the study.

Ensure that in making your healthy lifestyle changes, you are not committing cardinal friendship sins: if you have a regular Monday cake date with a particular friend, don’t blow this off to go to the gym instead.

There is a chance you could still meet up with the person whilst they have cake and you have a coffee, or perhaps you could use that as your one ‘cheat meal’ for the week. This can be pretty special for your friend if you explain that you’re sharing with them the one and only treat that you are allowed for the week.

If there is a special dinner planned, don’t simply back out: either offer to prepare a dish (of clean food which you know you can eat) or, if eating out, phone the restaurant ahead to check there is a meal that you might be able to order to avoid stress ‘on the night’ and allow everyone to enjoy the evening.

5. Know when ‘Enough is enough’

It is said that you are a product of the people that you keep closest to you. If despite your best efforts someone is constantly making you feel bad about yourself, or sabotaging you while you are trying hard to make it work, it might be necessary to take a break from the friendship.

Perhaps you are making the person feel insecure about themselves, and this is creating tension between the two of you. In this case a break can probably help to mend or – if necessary – end the friendship. Blieszner and Adams showed in their study from questionnaires of 589 adolescents that there can be a decline in friendship, based on a lower chance of intimacy, when there is a shift in common values.

If your new life is at odds with everything that you bonded over (e.g. binge drinking at the weekend), perhaps you might need a change to allow each other to value other aspects of each other. This may sounds harsh, but don’t forget that the gym is a very sociable place: you will often find people training with similar times and goals to you (one of which is probably fitness): spending time with people who share mutual interests can also lead to new friendships, and possibly more.

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drsuz@drsuzsquad.com

Highett/Victoria/Australia

©2020 by Dr Susan Baxter

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